Hollywood Fringe 2019
Unified by a love of pop culture references and a strong sense of feminist humor, 2 For 1 features two very different solo shows from two Hollywood up-and-comers.
I was drawn to 2 For 1 immediately by its tongue-in-cheek ad campaign: on their Fringe site, they tout the show as “two more one woman shows than you wanted” and “that’s twice you’ll get to ask, ‘is she ok??’” Given how a bulk of one woman shows tend to fall into the camp of self-indulgent on-stage therapy, I was looking forward to seeing what kind of send up of the genre these two 20-something comedic performers would bring to the table. Both shows are clever and funny, and while they do have some room to grow, they’re full of potential.
Alyssa Virker’s show “Simulakra” goes first. It’s absolutely unlike any other one woman show I’ve seen—I can only attempt to describe it as comedic expressionist dance. Virker’s an elegant and skilled dancer who uses her talents to tell a strange story of Simulakra, a technologically created model of a woman created by some unknown (male) force who programs her to think and perform her duties. She is asked to choose her personality from four peculiarly selected female archetypes drawn from mainstream movie culture—Amelie, Nutmeg (from Isle of Dogs), Halle Berry’s Catwoman, or Mary from There’s Something About Mary. She tries on each of these personae, drawing from a box of props, mocking the absurdity and reductive nature of each. Ultimately she chooses to be a mix of all four, which leads to a frenetic mishmash of physicality, props and wigs, attempting to select whatever behavior would be most pleasing to her faceless male master.
Virker is charming and 100% committed to the onstage chaos she’s created, but the show could use a little refining to take it to the next level. For one, the box of props seems to hinder more than it helps—while it definitely adds to the madness, it’s the kind of vague distraction that comes from rifling through a box, not from embodying disparate characters. Virker is so physically adept at using dance to convey her message, I’d love to see her embody each of her archetypes relying only on performance, without hiding behind any wigs or bottles of gel. I also felt that her disembodied male voice was rather flatly performed—it would have been great to have a voice with more presence and dominance, which would really sell his unseen authority, and would heighten the comedy when things unravel. Additionally, the archetypes themselves felt a little arbitrary—while Amelie certainly embodies that magical, virginal archetype and Mary is a perfect choice for the tomboy-male fantasy, the other two characters didn’t really ring as strong a bell. I found Nutmeg to be a very odd choice—while she’s definitely got her issues as a character, she’s not really as clear cut an archetype… in addition to being, well, a dog, which winds up being most of the joke instead of the absurd things she says or ridiculous behavior, as is with Amelie and Mary. Catwoman similarly misses the mark. While there’s no denying Halle Berry’s Catwoman is a cheesy sexual male fantasy, few would question the idea that she’s the least popular and most lame, but that wasn’t really addressed in this piece. Moreover, Catwoman done right (ahem, Michelle Pfeiffer) is both sexy and dangerous and definitely has agency over her life, whatever mess that may be, and while Berry’s version is definitely reductive and misses that mark of complexity, the fact that the character itself is more than just over-the-top sex pot also muddies the waters. I’d have liked to see the “vixen” archetype played by a more iconic sex symbol—perhaps Jessica Rabbit, or a Marilyn Monroe character.
Which ties into another gripe: all of these pop culture references—termed “The Big Four”—are only from a brief stint of years: 1998 (Mary), 2001 (Amelie), 2004 (Catwoman) and 2018 (Dogs). While the show aptly demonstrates that these are all reductive female characters written by male creators, men have been doing a crap job of writing women for centuries—you could have a whole Hero’s Journey of terrible female types over the years. I would have loved to have seen more deliberate selections that highlighted this fact; as is, it almost comes across as a problem that’s only existed since the late 90s. Once Simulakra becomes sentient, the denouement of the piece comes quickly, and could also stand to have another pass—it would be interesting to make a full cultural deconstruction of these tropes to see how a real woman might piece herself together from them. Were the props and wigs set aside, I think the piece could stay at its same length but have the content more richly mined. I would love to see this piece dialed in and further developed with more intention, as it truly is a unique way to critique cultural representations of women by men, and Virker is an undeniable talent who is boldly unafraid to try new things.
The second show, “My Dead Mom’s Funeral” is more conventional one-woman show fare, with a cheeky tone evidenced by its title. It truly embodies R.P. McMurphy’s words from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: sometimes we have to laugh at the things that hurt us, just to keep the world in balance, just to keep ourselves from going plumb crazy. Initially I thought it was going to be a parody of shows about dead parents, but quickly realized it was, indeed, Angela Beevers’ real story about eulogizing her mother.
The show takes us through the impossible task of writing a eulogy while also giving the audience an intimate look into Beevers’ experience. Similarly to Virker’s show, Beevers’ piece relies heavily on pop culture references and a copious use of wigs and props, and similarly, I believe it could be strengthened if most of these were eliminated, as they only distract from Beevers’ natural storytelling abilities. The mixed tone of the show does make it occasionally difficult to know what’s a joke and what is real, which is why I’d like to see most of the wigs go—when Beevers embodies a “hot doctor” or a woman accompanying the chaplain who place coins over her not yet dead mother’s eyes, it’s hard to know if it’s parody or fact. If the stage business were pared down and the story were conveyed in a slightly less distracting way, I believe this tonal ambiguity would disappear.
The strength of the show lie in Beevers herself—when she self-deprecates about her job as an assistant to a high-powered man in Hollywood, when she shares incredible footage of her mother in a Bellydancing for Seniors YouTube video. Again, I believe this piece has a lot of room for growth, and could truly become a powerhouse with a few changes. For one, the framing device of staying up all night to write the eulogy is excellent, but currently feels amorphous, like it exists and is forgotten until the next time a clock is cued on the projector. I’d love to see a revision of this piece to be more focused on the night, that truly keeps us in the room with her, so that once she does figure out what to say it feels like more of a payoff. And while I love seeing footage and photos from her mother and herself– since that really adds a second level of knowledge for the audience—I don’t think the other pop culture references are necessary. We don’t need clips from movies to make us laugh or feel Beevers’ pain—she is what carries the show. I loved the way she chose to end the piece, but also believe it would have more potency if some of the other distracting elements were pared down and Beevers’ own grappling with her mother’s personality and her own were heightened. I found myself wishing I were hearing way more about Beevers’ job and journey and dealing with her bellydancing, hippie mom, which is simply a matter of her speaking to us, rather than putting on other characters.
I hope these two stick with their shows and consider working on them further—I believe they would grow immeasurably, and future versions could benefit from a more intimate space with better sightlines (some of Virker’s floorwork was obscured because of the seating in the OMR). Both Virker and Beevers are in their early-mid-twenties, which means they have ample time to develop these pieces and hone in on what it is they most want to say. The inclusion of pop culture references in 2 for 1 feels a bit like a stepping stone, one that will become less prominent in future versions of their work as they learn to trust themselves as the focal point of their own plays. Even in this more nascent state, I found their shows to be entertaining and packed with potential: I look forward to watching their work grow.